As soon as the shelter-in-place order came down in mid-March, Ken Borelli knew we were in it for the long haul.
A longtime member of San Jose’s Italian American Heritage Foundation, Borelli said the organization began planning this year’s holiday festivities six months in advance. The foundation has had to cancel several revenue-drawing reservations, including many quinceaneras, at its hall on north Fourth Street.
“Even with a vaccine, it’s still going to be problematic to have a lot of people in a hall eating” Borelli said. “It’s kind of scary.”
The foundation and hundreds of other organizations across Santa Clara County have had to revamp holiday events that normally attract large crowds.
With the coronavirus pandemic raging stronger than ever in California and across the nation, locals have had to find creative ways to celebrate the season without endangering the health of the area’s most vulnerable residents.
While the city’s highly anticipated downtown holiday event Christmas in the Park—which typically includes vendors, rides and sponsored decorated trees in and around Plaza de Cesar Chavez—was moved to History Park and made a drive-through affair, the plaza smack-dab in the middle of the city’s urban core will not be left without holiday cheer.
According to Autumn Young, director of special projects at the San Jose Downtown Association, the organization has erected a series of light and art displays in and around the plaza. “We were looking at a dark center of our city,” she said. “We wanted to make sure the heart of downtown was alive.”
Sadly, the churros and hot cocoa that helped warm up visitors in prior years will not be present, but that’s to be expected because “anything that brings people together is not something that we can engage in at this time,” Young said.
And though funding for holiday events has been disrupted by the pandemic, which has forced the cancelation of fundraising galas and tightened the sponsorship budgets for some companies, organizations in the region, including the Italian American Foundation, are simply doing its best to survive, Borelli said. “It’s people just trying to share what they can during a rough time,” he said. “A lot of the professional nonprofits have whole techie squads helping. But we’re just doing as best we can.”
Upcoming Holiday Events
Holiday celebrations may look and feel different this year, like so many things, but that doesn’t mean they are gone.
For many, the show must go on in a pandemic-friendly way: by going virtual, changing to a drive-through experience or hosting outdoors in spaces where social distancing is possible. Here are a handful happening around Silicon Valley this year.
Christmas in the Park
San Jose’s most popular holiday tradition is shifting modes and locations, with visitors able to reserve a 15-minute drive-through slot at History Park. Cheaper tickets are available during the twilight hours of 4 to 5pm.
- Tickets: christmasinthepark.com/p/
- Where: 635 Phelan Ave., San Jose
- When: 4 to 10pm from Nov. 27 to Jan. 3
- Cost: $10 to $20 per vehicle
Fantasy of Lights
Santa Clara County’s annual holiday walk-through is now a drive-through. Those looking to be dazzled by the lights should reserve a space online before heading to Vasona Lake County Park in Los Gatos.
- Tickets: eventbrite.com/e/fantasy-of-
- Where: 333 Blossom Hill Road, Los Gatos
- When: 6 to 9pm from Dec. 4 to Dec. 30 (closed on Dec. 25)
- Cost: $30 per vehicle
Festival of Trees at Gamble Gardens [Virtual]
Palo Alto’s Festival of Trees was advertised as a walk-through event earlier this year, but organizers recently shifted to an online-only silent auction. Those looking to bid can register by 4pm on Dec. 4 to participate.
- Register: gamblegarden.org/
- When: 4pm on Dec. 4, 8:30pm on Dec. 5
Holidays at Filoli
Explorers can venture through the famous Filoli Estate by purchasing a walk-through ticket. Prices are cheaper during the daytime and for supporting members of the nonprofit; no pets allowed.
- Tickets: filoli.org/events/holidays/
- Where: 86 Cañada Road, Woodside
- When: 10am to 8pm from Nov. 21 to Jan. 3
- Cost: $28 to $38
Italian Holiday Market [Virtual]
A virtual market to buy from local Italian-American vendors and artists, and check out a few cooking classes and lectures while at the same time.
- More information: iahfsj.org/christmas-flyer-1
- When: Nov. 20 to Jan. 6
Santa at Stanford Shopping Center
Shoppers can take socially-distanced photos with Santa at Stanford Shopping Center by reserving a 15-minute time slot. Many slots are sold out, but some remain from Nov. 27 onward.
- Buy tickets: Stanfordshoppingcentersanta.
- Where: 660 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto
- When: Nov. 27 to Dec. 24
- Cost: $40 to $50
Palo Alto Players: Holiday family sing-along [Virtual]
A virtual cabaret for the whole family to sing along and dance to the classics and the offbeat holiday tunes alike.
- Tickets: paplayers.org; 650.329.0891
- When: 7pm on Dec. 4, 5, 11, 12 and 2pm on Dec. 6 and 13
- Cost: $20
Kids Holiday Market at Valley Fair Mall
What screams holiday cheer more than a “whimsical” space for kids to learn to manage a budget while shopping for friends and family? Valley Fair is opening a kids market in early December for 30- to 40-minute slots to show kids between the ages of five and 12 “the joys of gift shopping and giving.”
- Tickets: eventbrite.com/e/kids-market-december-3rd-16th-tickets-127787300255
- Where: 2855 Stevens Creek Blvd., Santa Clara/San Jose
- Cost: $5, plus the cost of the chosen gifts ranging from $10 to $25 each (no purchase required)
Events at Santana Row (700 Santana Row, San Jose)
Makers Market in the Park
Local artists, chefs and crafters will have their wares on display at an outdoor marketplace at San Jose’s favorite shopping destination.
- More information: santanarow.com/events/makers-
- When: 11am to 6pm on Dec. 5
Holiday Scavenger Hunt
Reindeer, doves and monkeys—oh my. Santana Row is hosting a holiday-themed outdoor scavenger hunt, where shoppers look for the animals hiding among the decorations for a chance to win a $100 gift card.
- More information: santanarow.com/events/holiday; 408.551.4611
- When: Nov. 27 to Dec. 3 during Concierge hours
Santana Snow Showers
For those missing their annual snow fix, Santana Row has the fluffy precipitation on tap every 30 minutes paired with holiday music in front of Maggiano’s restaurant.
- More information: santanarow.com/events/santana-row-snow-showers
- When: 6 to 8pm on Wednesdays through Saturdays from Nov. 28 to Dec. 19; 6 to 8pm nightly from Dec. 20 to 23